With world politics in a state of transition, we are seeing many old established regimes toppling at the hands of the people, shock election results, new movements gaining ground and citizens seemingly wielding more power than ever before.
The Arab Spring of 2010 was regarded as a game changer in northern Africa and the Middle East, with an informed, peaceful, young generation who had seen the wider world via the power of the internet and social media and managed to circumnavigate the established state-run news channels. I was in Tunisia in February 2011 and witnessed large scale protests before being evacuated back to London on a government-chartered plane. Talking to the Tunisians and Libyans with us, it was clear that there was deep divide between the powerful elite and a poorer, disaffected youth, struggling through the economic downturn, but who were finally able to share their activism through social media.
Large scale protests spread from Tunisia, through to Libya, Egypt, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen, with further protests taking place in Morocco, Algeria, Iran, Jordan and Sudan amongst others, creating a tidal wave of revolution. In a poll at the time, 9/10 young Egyptians and Tunisians said that they used Facebook to organize protests and spread awareness, indeed they referred to themselves as The Facebook Generation. The power of Social Media was a new tool in politics and one that has been feared by governments ever since, as it represents a complete loss of state control over information. We are entering an era where governments are starting to use social media and the internet to their advantage, or indeed to the disadvantage of rival countries. The 45th President of the United States appears to have benefitted from both sides of this coin and is proof of the success that can be garnered from #FakeNews as well as mainstream news and opinion from his own country and, indeed, other countries – the Russian collusion inquiry is certainly shaping up to dominate the global political landscape for many years to come.
The political upheaval around the world has certainly coincided with the stratospheric rise of social media and the capacity to organise large scale movements very quickly; something that was almost impossible in many countries until a few years ago. Modern governments have to be reactive rather than proactive in containing these occurrences as they can now be organised and staged in minutes, with incredibly dramatic results.
It is miraculous therefore, that within this state of flux there thrives an organisation that draws governments together for the common good of all, I refer to the
Commonwealth of Nations. The Commonwealth comprises 53 governments around the world representing some 2.4 billion people, 21% of global land area and a GDP of over £10 trillion, and is headed by HM Queen Elizabeth II.
Since its inception at the beginning of the 20th Century, the Commonwealth has expanded from an informal band of former British Colonies into a large, global organisation of trading nations with a common shared history, working together for the benefit of each other. In the mid 20th Century, British trade within the Commonwealth was four times greater than that with Europe and one can be sure that these avenues are being explored in Whitehall in preparation for a post-Brexit Britain.
The Commonwealth Secretariat, based at Marlborough House in London, is the glue that binds the organisation together, producing white papers, advice, strategy and policy for all members. How to keep together a unit of 53 countries with different religions, races, political views, and interests is something that many countries and organisations strive for and The Queen has a passion for the Commonwealth, using each country’s strengths for the benefit of others, and it is a system that has held firm throughout her reign. I worked as a Project Director on behalf of The Commonwealth Secretariat and organised the first partnership between the Commonwealth and Harvard Medical School in the United States – it is a partnership that endures to this day and I am very proud of the millions of lives that have been saved, particularly in sub-Saharan African and the Indian sub-continent by enabling access to HIV and Malaria treatments and retrovirals.
It was another time of change, September 2001, and just a week after the events in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, I was engaged in a conference call with 20 governors and the Dean of Harvard to work on a deal for southern Africa. They were all, despite the turmoil in America at the time, completely focussed on working with the Commonwealth (which the United States are not members of) to provide medical help to others around the world. It was an inspiring moment.
This led to us establishing a supply of affordable medicines for governments in the poorest countries, with global pharmaceutical firms such as GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer offering their products at a vastly discounted rate in order to provide healthcare to as many people as possible. It is work that I am immensely proud of and another example of the need for nations to work with each other rather than against.
In this time of political uncertainty and divisive politics, it is organisations such as the Commonwealth of Nations that should be the example of how politics can really work well for the benefit of everyone, but sadly it is the exception rather than the rule.